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Diversity uncertainty

15 September, 2023

This June, while many of us were enjoying summer holidays, the US Supreme Court was busy ending race-conscious admissions practices at American universities. The landmark ruling meant that higher education institutions in the US can no longer legally consider race during the admissions process – a practice that prior to the ruling worked to increase diversity in student populations.  

While a significant blow for student diversity in America, there’s no direct legal reason this should affect companies’ hiring practices. But of course, it’s never that simple.  

Experts are concerned that the ruling will inspire related lawsuits against corporate hiring and workforce management practices and that the risk of these lawsuits will be enough to discourage corporations from establishing ambitious diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policies. In fact, conservative legal groups have already taken aim against employers like Target and Nordstrom, challenging their DE&I efforts as discriminatory.     

This prospective pull back from DE&I efforts is particularly troubling, as it will only serve to compound the effects of the admissions ruling on workforce diversity. If fewer Black and other minoritized students enter – and therefore graduate – from top universities, businesses will already be drawing from a less diverse talent pool. It is more important than ever that hiring, and employee development processes, are designed to give support and encourage those who may otherwise be disadvantaged by virtue of their background.  

Ultimately, businesses that row back on DE&I initiatives are only managing one risk at the expense of another. Studies have consistently shown that a more diverse workforce is a better performing workforce – by cutting out DE&I initiatives, companies are harming their own chances of business success. 

In advance of the Supreme Court ruling, 60 companies including Apple and Starbucks released a statement reiterating their support for DE&I processes. We’ll be looking to these businesses, but also to all those who have made commitments to DE&I in the past, to see if they are as good as their word in this new legal landscape.  

By Louise Podmore

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